Recent shifts in the media ecosystem raise new concerns about the vulnerability of democratic societies to fake news and the public’s limited ability to contain it. Fake news as a form of misinformation benefits from the fast pace that information travels in today’s media ecosystem, in particular across social media platforms. An abundance of information sources online leads individuals to rely heavily on heuristics and social cues in order to determine the credibility of information and to shape their beliefs, which are in turn extremely difficult to correct or change. The relatively small, but constantly changing, number of sources that produce misinformation on social media offers both a challenge for real-time detection algorithms and a promise for more targeted socio-technical interventions.
There are some possible pathways for reducing fake news, including:
(1) offering feedback to users that particular news may be fake (which seems to depress overall sharing from those individuals); (2) providing ideologically compatible sources that confirm that particular news is fake; (3) detecting information that is being promoted by bots and “cyborg” accounts and tuning algorithms to not respond to those manipulations; and (4) because a few sources may be the origin of most fake news, identifying those sources and reducing promotion (by the platforms) of information from those sources.
As a research community, we identified three courses of action that can be taken in the immediate future: involving more conservatives in the discussion of misinformation in politics, collaborating more closely with journalists in order to make the truth “louder,” and developing multidisciplinary community-wide shared resources for conducting academic research on the presence and dissemination of misinformation on social media platforms.
Moving forward, we must expand the study of social and cognitive interventions that minimize the effects of misinformation on individuals and communities, as well as of how socio-technical systems such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter currently facilitate the spread of misinformation and what internal policies might reduce those effects. More broadly, we must investigate what the necessary ingredients are for information systems that encourage a culture of truth.